Correction to This Article
An Oct. 15 Style article on Pat Robertson incorrectly said that George H.W. Bush was a sitting president during the 1988 presidential campaign. He was the vice president.

Preaching With a Vengeance

The Christian Broadcasting Network founder's controversial pronouncements are piling up.
The Christian Broadcasting Network founder's controversial pronouncements are piling up. (By Win Mcnamee -- Getty Images)
By Lynne Duke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 15, 2005

What do Hugo Chavez and Harriet Miers have in common?

Pat Robertson: The rhetorical hit man who opined several weeks ago that Chavez, the Venezuelan president, should be assassinated now has thrown down the gauntlet for senators who oppose Miers's nomination for the Supreme Court.

"Now they're going to turn against a Christian who is a conservative picked by a conservative president and they're going to vote against her for confirmation?" he said Thursday on "The 700 Club," his voice sarcastic with disbelief. "Not on your sweet life, if they want to stay in office."

It's becoming almost routine, this strident talk. Indeed, Robertson, 75, has a long history of controversial statements, dating at least to his infamous 1991 conspiracist tract, "The New World Order." And he shows no sign of slowing down.

This week, he accused Chavez of sending money to Osama bin Laden, making nice with the jailed terrorist "Carlos the Jackal" and negotiating with Iran for nuclear materials. And after Katrina, Rita and the spate of global earthquakes and floods, he's raised the biblical end-of-the-world scenario. Or could it be, he's also offered, that it is God's wrath against abortion?

Sometimes it's hard to keep up with this man who once equated feminism with witchcraft, who said of the State Department: "You've got to blow that thing up."

So just who listens to Robertson (other than Chavez and the news media), and does he matter in politics? Depending on whom you talk to, Robertson is an embarrassment to the conservative movement who has yet to realize his own irrelevance, or he is a valuable Christian leader of millions, a man still capable of marshaling votes and influencing politics.

All of that can be debated. But we know this: He is founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, where his show, "The 700 Club," beams his brand of populist, charismatic Christian evangelism to a daily audience of 1 million from his base in Virginia Beach.

"He's not oblivious to the fact that people in Washington will take note when he says something, especially something outlandish, but his primary audience is his listeners," says Richard Cizik, a senior official with the National Association of Evangelicals.

And yet Jerry Falwell, chancellor of Liberty University and founder of the Moral Majority, says it is Robertson's political nature that drives the strident, pointed talk.

"Pat ran for president once and he's a very political person, and that is the way politicians talk," says Falwell, who describes himself as Robertson's friend. "They all use intimidation and political strong-arming to hopefully pick up a vote or two."

Though Robertson's not running for anything, says Falwell, "Pat is one of the most political people I know."

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